One of the country’s largest retail unions represents workers in department stores, grocery stores and bakeries.
Now, it has a new category: sex shop workers.
Last week, 25 employees of Babeland, an adult toy store with three locations in New York City, voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the group said on Monday. The move, workers said, would help them address a number of wage and training issues, as well as some concerns related more specifically to the nature of adult retail work and to a handful of transgender employees.
“This is the only adult sex shop that is organized,” Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the retail union, said in an interview on Monday. “And I think that’s significant.”
The employees said there were many reasons why they had wanted to unionize: more transparency around hiring, promotion and disciplinary decisions, and support for airing grievances and navigating workplace disputes.
The vote for unionizing, which took place on Friday, was 21 to 4, the union said.
“It’s a sign of how much we love this place,” said Lena Solow, who said she had worked at Babeland for three years. “We want it to be the best place it can be.”
Babeland sells a variety of sex toys, accessories and books, and the workers proudly consider themselves sex educators. But that also makes them a target for invasive questions and even harassment, they said.
“People don’t go into the Gap and ask what shirt fits you best,” added Phoenix Casino, who has worked at Babeland for two years.
The employees have advocated better training and support from management to deal with problematic customers. They had pushed for caller ID, for example, to help weed out the threatening phone calls workers said they received on a daily basis. Two of the three stores now have caller ID, Babeland said.
The store also said that it had “developed a list of new trainings” based on staff feedback that would focus on how to handle difficult customers.